Quick Top End Trip Summary

We recently took a twelve-day trip to the Top End of the Northern Territory: three days in Darwin, then the rest mostly in Kakadu returning with a stop at Pine Creek and Litchfield before returning back to Darwin to fly to Melbourne.

The Magpie Goose is rare in Victoria, but seeing hundreds is guaranteed in the Top End. Photo by Jason Polak.

Although I plan to write more posts on the trip including a detailed guide of Kakadu NP, readers may be interested in our complete bird list to get an idea of what is possible:
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Point Addis: Hey Rufous Bristlebird

Coming from the east, Point Addis is the first stop along Great Ocean Road. Surpisingly for such a small little area, it provides all sorts of outdoor entertainment: ocean cliff views, a sandy beach, and great birding. Point Addis is so nice that it would be a great place to go even without any birds.

Let’s take a look at the great features of Point Addis:

1. A Superb Lookout Point

This lookout point has a lovely walk to the edge where you can see pure ocean.

Just look at that inviting view! Photo by Jason Polak.

Some of the sights here and at the nearby Airey’s Inlet Coastal Reserve already give a pretty great sample of some the Great Ocean Road views. The lookout point is reputed to be a great seabird-watching area. As a matter of fact, we did see Black-browed Albatross, our first albatross! It was not easy to see much detail, and you might need a spotting scope or a 600mm lens to get a good view. The succulent scrub pictured is a good place to see New Holland Honeyeater as well. The star of the birding show is of course the Rufous Bristlebird, one of only three birds in the family Dasyornithidae in the world, and all three are in Australia!

Us: Hey Rufous Bristlebird, we woke up at 7AM for you! Rufous Bristlebird: Yum yum yum. Photo by Jason Polak.

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Book Review: Dolby and Clarke’s “Finding Australian Birds”

Long-time readers probably know that we only have two guaranteed years in Australia, so I’ve been strict with myself with regard to buying books. I know that any book I buy will be one I’ll have to take with me or get rid of, and getting rid of books is not something I do easily. So, it must mean something when I bought “Finding Australian Birds” by Tim Dolby and Rohan Clarke.

This book is a summary of hundreds of birding sites across Australia, including those crazy little islands I’ll sadly never visit. I found it in a public library, and after taking it out and renewing it about a dozen times I finally decided I had to buy it.

Yes folks, this book is good. It’s primary purpose is to give you a solid idea of some great birding sites around different places you might visit or live in. Each site starts with a list of “key species” (i.e. species we never see) and “other species”. The description itself usually say something cool about the place, a little about how to navigate it, and what birds you can find. In short, Finding Australian Birds is an excellent first approximation to all your birding adventures. With pictures on almost every page, it also provides a nice mind-trip to those spots that you might not ever get a chance to visit.

Is a book like this still relevant in this day and age of eBird? Absolutely. A book like this is an excellent complement to eBird. Unlike eBird, Finding Australian Birds gives a compact but detailed overview of an area, its birds, and its general feel. eBird then can be used to fine-tune plans with its continuously updated data. In my mind, this book and eBird make a superb team.

Along with a field guide, Finding Australian Birds should be on every birder’s shelf in Australia. Will it help you find the Night Parrot? No. But it’s a good start!

Warby-Ovens National Park

Warby Ovens is a beautiful park located about 230km north and slightly east of Melbourne. It has some great walks like the Friends track, a nice walk up to the summit of Mount Warby. This walk features interpretive signs along with a variety of habitats and good specimens of the slow-growing Austral Grass Trees, some of which are over a hundred years old! We also tried Pine Gully track. It has a nice view of the forest of the park without any glimpse of the endless farmland that covers much of Northern Victoria.

At Warby-Ovens we saw six new birds. We found Buff-rumped and Striated Thornbill. In typical thornbill fashion, these were hard to see clearly. Without taking several pictures of each we would not have been able to identify them. The thornbills are typically in the higher elevations of the park: a good place to look for them is along the Friend’s track and the driving tracks at higher elevations.

At Forest camp we also found Yellow-tufted and Fuscous Honeyeater. Although somewhat slower moving than the thornbills, these also were elusive, preferring the high canopy of the ironbark forest. I couldn’t get satisfying shots of them, but we got fairly good looks including a head-on view of the Yellow-tufted Honeyeater that really shows the tufts.We saw Grey Shrikethrush. It’s supposedly quite common closer to Melbourne but we’ve never seen it there.

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater. It has tufts! Photo by Jason Polak.

Our final find was a little controversial in my mind: two emus. Can anyone claim these fine creatures? They were quite curious and friendly. Since they were in a fenced field, I wasn’t sure if they were wild and hence counted for our list. Quite a few nice individuals responded to a message I posted on the Bird-Aus mailing list about it, and most agreed they were sufficiently wild, even if they might have long ago descended from some captive Emus. Although there is no way to be sure in a case like this, with a little reluctance I added them to the list.

Getting back to obviously wild birds, what about the key species of Turquoise Parrot? Sadly, we saw neither the Turquoise Parrot nor the Swift Parrot. But we did see Galah, Australian King Parrot, Crimson and Eastern Rosella. Besides parrots we also saw Pied Currawong, White-winged Chough, Eastern Spinebill, Jacky Winter, and Laughing Kookaburra.

If you can’t see birds, look at the stars! Photo by Jason Polak.

There were also some gems in the farmland bordering the park. As we were leaving, we saw White-faced Heron in the grass, and nearby was a Masked Lapwing and few Australian Wood Ducks. Another field had dozens of Straw-necked Ibis: an odd and pretty sight. Sometimes we saw an ibis near a cow. Now that’s weird. A multitude of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos were also present, and flew away unusually quickly when we tried to observe them. Maybe they thought we were going to shoot them?

Warby-Ovens is definitely a nice place to visit, and we hope to return one day to find the Turquoise Parrot. Highly recommended!

These currawongs were sad to see us go. Photo by Jason Polak.

My Favourite Bird

Want to know my favourite Australian bird? White-throated Needletail? Sure, that was a cool chance encounter that lasted all of five seconds, but it wasn’t my favourite. What about White-winged Black Tern? Again, neat, but it looks like all the other Terns except it turns black sometimes. In fact, my favourite is the Purple Swamphen!

The Purple Swamphen. Drawing by Jason Polak.

Although common, the Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) has a lot of character. Once at Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens we saw it slowly advance on a Dusky Moorhen until the moorhen was forced backwards off the lawn into a pond. Another time we flushed one and it ran like hell into the reeds, instead of flying like a typical bird. Just take a look at this Purple Swamphen party at the Western Treatment Plant:

A Purple Swamphen party, with lots of attitude. Photo by Jason Polak.

Don’t they look like they’re having fun?

Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens

Located near Melbourne CBD, the Royal Botanic Gardens consists of a variety of habitats such as lakes and different forests and plant collections from different parts of the world.

When’s a good time to go? Probably any time of the year will result in many of the birds mentioned below.However, I recommend going in the cooler months, as in the peak of summer the grounds get so crowded with tourists that it pretty much negates the enjoyment of seeing the plants and birds. And speaking of the birds…

The gardens has a stable Bell Miner colony in the northwest corner near the ornamental lake and seeing one is not difficult. You’ll know you’ve found the colony by the multiple short, bell-like calls that emanate from it. The ornamental lake is also a great site to see waterbirds, the most common probably being Purple Swamphen, Dusky Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Pacific Black Duck, and Grey and Chestnut Teal. Less numerous are Australasian Grebe, Hardhead, and Little Pied Cormorant. We’ve seen the Nankeen Night Heron twice.

The Australasian Grebe is often found in the ornamental lakes. Photo by Jason Polak

The most common parrots are Sulphur-crested Cockatoo and Rainbow Lorikeet. The other day someone on eBird saw a flock of Long-billed and Little Corellas, though this isn’t very common.

We’ve seen a few interesting species near the bathroom directly east from Rose Pavillion, including White-browed Scrubwren and Little Wattlebird. White-browed Scrubwen seems to keep to the forest floor and can be found under small bushes and around trees. Silvereye is often around, but difficult to see well because it moves around quickly. A good place to see it is near the glasshouse and Nymphaea Lily Lake. Eastern Spinebill is not always easy to find but a good time to see it could be May-June, when we’ve seen many.

The sneaky honeyeater Eastern Spinebill is a quick moving bird that seems easiest to see in the fall and early winter. Photo by Jason Polak.

There are also supposedly several other common small birds in the gardens that we’ve never found: Australian Reed-Warbler, Song Thrush, Golden Whistler, and Brown Thornbill. Oh, and of course the sneaky Spotted Pardalote! That’s not surprising though since it’s friend Striated Pardalote also gave us the slip in Terrick Terrick NP.

The Western Treatment Plant

The Western Treatment Plant, also known as ‘The Sewage Farm’ is one of my favourite places in Victoria, and it’s not because of the sewage. In fact, a lot of why I like this place is not even because it’s one of the richest birding spots in the south. I like this place because it’s quiet. Although popular with birders, it has fewer visitors than the average park and most of the time it has no people at all. And even when there are a few, birders mostly keep to themselves anyway.

The Western Treatment Plant has great scenery. You can sit by the ocean and appreciate the vast expanse of succulents and scrub, and if you’re there early in the summer you can see the huge purple thistles. Yes, this is indeed a peaceful place, and that’s probably why there are so many birds. In my mind there are three main types of birds around: the waterbirds, the raptors, and the skulking grass birds.

A typical view of the ocean at the plant: there are Black Swans, Silver Gulls, various ducks, and migrating shorebirds in the summer. Photo by Jason Polak.

The main birding attraction is probably the waterbirds such as the migratory shorebirds in the summer. There are hundreds of Red-necked Stints, and if you’ve got time to look you could probably identify several more in their feeding frenzy. Also present mostly in the summer are the difficult-to-identify terns. I suggest taking lots of pictures and examing them at home.
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Why does this blog exist?

It might surprise you to know that a year ago, I wasn’t interested in birds. Coming to Australia changed that. Pretty soon after Emily and I arrived, we started ranking up species, starting with the Common Mynah and Rainbow Lorikeet. Now we’ve been here for nearly a year and we’ve got 138 species, the latest being the Crested Shrike-tit.

Birding is something we do in our spare time and we’re only here for two years in total, so we want to see as many birds as possible. One of our goals is to see 200 species, so we have 62 more to go. I hope we’ll probably see more than that.

This blog exists to chronicle some of our efforts. So do check back every once and a while and follow our progress!

Our Visit to Terrick Terrick National Park

Terrick Terrick National Park (TTNP) is located just over 200km north of Melbourne, and comprises of light forest and grasslands. There is a single campsite along with an outhouse and picnic area situated near a large rocky hill called Mount Terrick Terrick.

So how’s the birding? The picnic area abounds with little brown birds like Jacky Winter and Brown Treecreeper. Near the cemetery not far from the picnic area we saw White-browed babbler, Red-capped Robin, and one of either Brown Goshawk or Collared Sparrowhawk.

Reigel’s Rock – It’s a big rock.

Now there are two large rock formations in the park aside from Mount Terrick Terrick: Bennett’s Rock and Reigel’s Rock. In fact from the top of any of these, you can see the other two. Both sites are a meeting of the forest and rockier habitats and proved to be great birding. Reigel’s Rock was first on our list, and on the way we saw a kangaroo drinking site. This region is a little different than the more forested area of the park, being more sparse and rocky.
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Review: Pizzey and Knight’s “The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia”

Under review is the 9th edition of “The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia” by Graham Pizzey and Frank Knight, edited by Sarah Pizzey. It describes virtually every bird that can be seen in Australia including vagrants. Chances are, any bird you see will be in this book.

It contains excellent colour illustrations by Frank Knight. Each species is accompanied by a description of its appearance, voice, habitat, breeding times, eggs, and range and ecological status. The range is supplanted by a clear distribution map. To aid in finding a bird, the front and back cover contain a quick finding guide. The last part of the book contains short descriptions of all the bird families in Australia, which makes for interesting reading and can give additional valuable clues for identification. At 608 pages, it is perfect for short walks or the car, though it may be too heavy for some on longer backpacking treks into the outback.

Finding a species is usually easy. When the illustrations don’t provide enough for identification, often the hints in the text do. There were only a few types of birds that were difficult to identify. One is the family Charadriidae. For example, I could not distinguish between the Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers and I only came to a conclusion after consulting a specialised shorebird book.

Another type of cryptic birds are terns. Distinguishing terns is notoriously difficult and most of the time I give up. In the book, some of the terns are illustrated standing, flying from above and flying from below, but not all, which is frustrating. Then again, tern plumage is varied and never constant on an individual, so even illustrations from a given angle may not be enough for a definitive answer. To this end I have ordered an additional book on seabirds to see if I can improve my luck with terns. Ideally, I’d love an additional section for these tough groups including additional illustrations, descriptions, and photographs, though I understand that this may make the book too large.

Despite these few difficulties, the guide is detailed, accurate, and fun to browse. In summary, it is superb for anyone interested in finding and identifying Australian birds. Highly recommended.